Thursday, February 15, 2018

Praying in Pain and Anguish

  You're in our thoughts and prayers."  This is our standard response to the pain and sorrow we see in the lives of those around us.  School shootings, teen suicides, accidents, and dire diagnoses - "you're in our thoughts and prayers."  But do we really know HOW to pray in times of pain and anguish?

   Perhaps we've been told that we must accept whatever comes into our lives - "it's a part of God's plan" we're told, so no arguing.  Meek acquiescence is the expected reaction.  But doesn't this make our Lord out to be a rather dictatorial sovereign and not a Father?  

   Others say, "name it and claim it!" like it's some kind of magic formula!  But doesn't this reduce the Most High God into a weak parent Who is always caving in to their petulant child?

  Like so many lessons in life it is wise to look at the behavior and listen to the words of Jesus.  On the night He was betrayed Jesus went out to Gethsemane - a garden on the Mount of Olives.  Knowing the totality of the pain that was coming to Him, He knelt and prayed to His Father in heaven.  He prayed with urgency and strong pleading.  He prayed with trust and obedience.

   St. Mark tells us Jesus prayed: "Remove this cup from Me." (Mark 14:36 ESV)  Our English translations, while good, do not carry the weight of the original Greek.  In writing his Gospel, Mark made it clear that Jesus was emphatic that His Father remove the cup - in other words, "NO PAIN!"  This was no suggestion or gentle plea, but the heartfelt cry of a Man Whose sweat turned to blood in His anguish.  

   But just as soon as He made such a bold statement, Jesus prayed "yet not what I will, but what You will."  Here in the Son of God and the Son of Man we see the delicate balance of prayer.  There is a boldness born from our relationship to our God as His beloved children, and there is trust and obedience that grow out of our faith in our Father's goodness and love.  We are encouraged to cry out to the Lord from the deepest parts of our pain and sorrow.  Our Father wants us to hold nothing back!  We are encouraged to ultimately trust in a Father Who loves us with an everlasting love.  Our Father has given us a living hope of an inheritance that does not fade away.

  Left to ourselves we could never pray in this manner.  But the One Who is teaching us how to pray is the One Who endured that pain so He could bear our sin.  It was humanity's rebellion against our Creator that opened the door for sorrow to enter creation.  Jesus walked down a road that led to His death on the cross that that door might be ultimately be slammed shut when He returns again.  In the meantime, we hold on to the hope that is ours because Jesus rose from the dead, never to die again.  So child of God, pray boldly and pray trustingly, for your Heavenly Father is listening . . .

Go to dark Gethsemane,
All who feel the tempter’s pow’r;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see,
Watch with Him one bitter hour;
Turn not from His griefs away;
Learn from Jesus Christ to pray.
John Montgomery
Public Domain

Friday, September 22, 2017

We Cry Out: "Lord, Have Mercy!"

   The recent hurricanes, earthquakes, and global politics have struck at our hearts and causing many to cry out “Lord, have mercy!”  Of the portions of the Church’s liturgy that are ancient, perhaps none is more treasured and prevalent than the Kyrie Eleison – “Lord, have mercy!”  This cry resounds throughout the Holy Scriptures and remains one of the most natural and human prayers. 
   WHY?  Because of our tenuous status in this creation.
We find ourselves vulnerable and under attack from the elements, from one another, from disease, from calamities and trials.  In times of trouble we are suddenly awakened to the fact that we are living under the Almighty power of God and are undeserving of His goodness and care.  Stripped away are the myths of our self-sufficiency and control over our own lives.  Left grieving and empty-handed we have nothing left but to turn our eyes to our Creator and cry out for mercy . . .
   Jesus heard the cries of lepers, blind men, and a mother whose daughter was possessed by a demon.  With compassion, Jesus turned His eyes to their situation and brought healing, sight, and restoration.  This same Jesus hears our cries for mercy today.  His eyes are turned toward us with compassion and love.  He beholds the plight of His people and responds.  Every. Time.
   But our eyes are often veiled and cannot see His response.  To some of us He brings us deliverance from our troubles - this is visible and celebrated.  To others of us He gives strength and peace to endure the hardship - this is REAL, but often invisible.  It is faith and trust in the God of love and compassion that assures us that the Lord indeed hears our cries for mercy and acts on our behalf.  
   When you feel tempted to doubt whether the Lord your God hears your cries or cares to deliver you, remember the cross of Jesus Christ.  For throughout human history there has never been a more crystal clear demonstration of God's mercy.  Generations, weighed down by their sins and disobedience, had cried out for mercy.  On that great and dark day Jesus died sin was paid for and debt cancelled.  Through His very own body Jesus opened a way into the presence of the Father.  And when Christ arose on the third day, mercy was put on display for all creation to behold.

With hurting hearts and trusting faith we will continue to cry out:
"Lord, have mercy;
Christ, have mercy;
Lord, have mercy"

A few points to ponder:

  • When do YOU cry out for mercy?
  • Have you ever seen a child of God show peace, comfort, and/or joy in the midst of trouble?  How are these the compassionate response of the Lord to the cry for mercy?  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Love Often Hurts

   Hearts & Chocolate are everywhere. The Hallmark Channel is geared up with romantic marathons. LOVE is in the air . . . Valentine’s Day is here! For several weeks, as a service to the public, television and radio ads have been urging men to purchase the right card and the shiniest diamond on the market.  But is love really that easy? As a pastor I have often seen love in the trenches.  Some of these examples include:
Spouses showing grace to one another in difficult times
Parents loving their children in spite of their rebellious words and actions
Dying friends being cared for with gentleness and sacrifice

  These children of God were living out the lyrics to Toby Mac's song “This is What Love Feels Like”
I am tired, I am drained but the fight in me remains 
I am weary, I am worn like I’ve never been before 
This is harder than I thought, harder than I thought it’d be 
Harder than I thought, takin’ every part of me 
Harder than I thought so much harder than I thought it’d be 
But empty’s never felt so full 
This is what love . . . This is what love feels like 
Poured out, used up, still givin’, stretching me out to the end of my limits 
This is what love . . . This is what real love feels like 
© D Soul Music   (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.) ; Universal Music - Brentwood Benson Publishing   (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)  9t One Songs   (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Achtober Songs   (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)   Ariose Music   (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) 
   When we reduce LOVE to merely a warm-hearted feeling, we diminish it and risk losing it altogether! How blessed we are to have a God Whose love for us survives our bad behavior, our unfaithfulness, our rebellion, our addictions, and our overall unworthiness of such mercy.  As the Gradual we’ve been using in worship the past several weeks declares: great is His steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever”   Psalm 117:2
   The Lord loves you to the point of HIS pain and HIS death. Jesus hanging on the cross is what love looks like.  Love is the toughest of all emotions, called upon to sustain us through the most horrible and testing times of our lives.  We can love because God has first loved us.  His love, shown to us through Christ, brings us life, peace and hope.  We have a future because God’s love for us — even when we were extremely unlovable - compelled Him to sacrifice Himself to pay the price for our sins.
   My prayer for you is that you never forget how much you are loved by your God.  And I pray that this love will overflow in and through your life to those around you.
To God be the glory!

A few points to ponder:
  • Is it difficult for you to believe you are loved by God?

  • How are the Lord's steadfast love and His eternally enduring faithfulness good news for you?

  • How can you better reflect the Lord's love to those around you?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

I love Play-doh! Sometimes when my stress or boredom reaches a high level, I wander into the Preschool room and sit down with the children and make Play-doh creations!  
   Here’s a photo of one of my fine museum–quality pieces. As you can see, like all good art work, it is open to interpretation.  Is it a hose, a worm, a snake, or the outline of an ear??  Why is Play-doh so awesome?  Because even an accomplished artist like myself often finds themselves in need of re-forming their creation!
   499 years ago Martin Luther found himself in a Church that had lost its God-given shape. In place of God’s free grace, the Church was selling forgiveness.  To combat this false practice and teaching, Luther posted 95 Theses for debate on the door of the church in Wittenberg — and the Reformation was born. 
   But the story isn’t over, the need for re-forming the Church continues. Errors continue to creep into the teaching and preaching of the Church’s pulpits.  Some, in the name of Jesus, tolerate behaviors and lifestyles that Christ Himself condemned in His Word.  Others strut around in their freedom from sin unwilling to grant that self-same forgiveness to others.  Why is the Church so prone to mangling her holy, Christ-given shape?  Because the Church of Jesus Christ is comprised of forgiven, yet still sinful, people.
   As much as we want to blame others, re-forming the Church back into the shape the Lord desires has to begin with us.  Paul declared that you are a “new creation” because you are in Christ.  By your sin — both inherited and that which you have committed — your reflection of the image of God was cracked and broken.  Through Jesus you have been forgiven and re-formed back into the beautiful and glorious image of God.  The rub is this:  the cracked and broken part of you remains until the Day of Resurrection!
   EVERY day we need to consciously and prayerfully re-form the broken one within us...but how? Remember that in your faith and baptism you were given rebirth as a child of God.  And then USE your baptism!  Luther wrote: “the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before the Lord in righteousness and purity forever.” [Luther’s Small Catechism, pg 23, © 1986 Concordia Publishing House]   Then as the redeemed and re-formed child of God you are able to effect Godly change within your family, community and Church.
   As we celebrate the 499th anniversary of the Reformation, let us continue the work of re-forming.  Let us be a people daily at work at re-forming ourselves through repentance and faith in Christ.  Let us be a people who remain vigilant within the Church, guarding our confession.  And let us EVER share this news of New Creation through Jesus  with those the sinful and broken and wounded around us.   
To God be the glory!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Training Our Children

   I admit, I largely dodged the bullet of sitting in the pew with my children for Sunday morning worship service.  That task was left up to my wife Tess who served as: Diplomat (negotiating WHO shall sit by WHO); Caterer (supplying necessary in-pew refreshments); Police Officer (enforcing the law when the work of the aforementioned diplomat did not result in peace); Noise Abatement Officer (keeping the ’roar’ of her pew-mates to a minimum); and Nurse (healer of ills and hurt feelings).  

    If you ask my children about their childhood memories of Sunday mornings, they will tell you more about their mother than anyone/anything else.  And that’s just fine!  Why? Because, in addition to all of her other Sunday morning roles, their mom served as their Trainer in how to worship the Lord.  While I lounged in the relative comfort of the Pastor’s Chair in the front of the sanctuary, she was showing them . . .
. . . how to sit and listen to the Word of God;
. . . how to join in the prayers of the congregation;
. . . how to sing the hymns (humming before they could read);
. . . how to give to the Lord as a natural expression of their faith;
. . . and that Worship on a Sunday is vitally important (even when it is hard work).

    WHY do this difficult and often frustrating work of bringing small children to worship? 
Because we believe the Lord is faithful — we believe Him when He says: 
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6 
 If we train our children early it will take hold in their lives!  This hard work is worth it . . .
Because we believe that the Word of the Lord is a means by which the Spirit of God brings grace and forgiveness and life to His people . . . of ALL ages! 
Because we believe that even infants can have faith John the Baptist leapt for joy while still in his mother’s womb! 
Because we believe that faith is MORE than just an intellectual grasping of truth statements it is a spiritual gift from God. 
Because we believe that little ones are loved and treasured by their Creator and Redeemer.
Because we believe WE must train them about the truth of the Lord believe me, if we don’t, the world, the devil and their sinful flesh will fill their minds, hearts and souls with lies.
   Children are a blessing and a gift from God!  They are also incredibly hard work! When our four were little, I remember asking Tess “How was the sermon today?”  She would often answer “The part I heard was good . . . ”  I recognize that bringing small children to worship is hard work.  It is a chore, a task and a great toiling!  But it is definitely worth the effort as it is an ETERNAL work for the salvation of their souls and the giving of everlasting life through Christ Jesus.

Time to Ponder . . .
What childhood lessons have stuck with you throughout your lifetime?  What faith lessons have stuck with you?

What are your earliest memories of worshiping Jesus?  Of being in a Church?

Is there something you wish your parents had taught you when you were young?

To God be the Glory!

Friday, September 16, 2016

“Disciple” Means “Following”
    Without evil intention, much of modern Christianity has allowed a cheapening of the person and work of Jesus Christ to creep into our congregations.  We have forgotten to be disciples.

   Throughout the ages the Church has confessed a belief in Jesus as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God” Who, in time, “for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the virgin Mary.”  We believe, teach, and confess that Jesus is fully divine AND fully human.  So far so good . . .

    The problem comes when we apply this to our lives, to where the rubber hits the road!  Too often, like a retailer trying to compete in a changing market, the Church has offered a more and more stripped down version of its confession.  Gauging the market, we have determined that folks will not tolerate well a teaching that places demands upon them.  We have mistakenly taken this as good news – after all the Good News of God is that Jesus has freed us from the condemnation of God’s Law. 

    But we seem to have forgotten our calling to “make disciples of all nations.”  And the results have been devastating:
  • Instead of disciples of Jesus, we have inadvertently raised a generation of Church-goers who don’t go to Church (worship).
  • Instead of disciples of Jesus, we have raised a people who confess with their mouths but whose lives/actions do not match that confession. 
  • Instead of disciples of Jesus, we have created a people who demand that He follow US, in the stead of us following Him.

   As He walked this earth, Jesus exhorted those listening to Him:
“If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” Mark 8:34   

    Jesus desires that we FOLLOW Him.  He desires for us to trust that His life, His death, and His resurrection paid the price for our sins and has given us victory through Him.  He desires that this freedom and victory would shape every aspect of our lives, bending our own wills and worldviews to match His will and His view of humanity.  He desires that we become His students and apprentices.  To do that we must follow Jesus . . .
. . . and watch Him
. . . and imitate Him
. . . and live with Him.

Some Ponderings . . .

How does your faith help shape your life?

In turn, how does the shape of your life help strengthen your faith?

What do you personally find to be the most difficult aspect of following Jesus?

What do you personally find to be the most rewarding aspect of following Jesus?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Rub Some Dirt In It . . .

Image result for crown of thorns purple   "Rub some dirt in it and walk it off!"  When I was a lad that was the default encouragement one would hear whenever someone injured themselves while playing sports.  It was a way of saying STOP crying and get back in the game so we can win!  Not exactly sympathetic, huh?

   This past week the season of Lent opened up with the observance of Ash Wednesday.  Lent is the Holy Christian Church's way of saying "Rub some dirt in it." But the Church's motivation is not to win, but rather, to lose. 

  • to lose our boasting before the Lord;
  • to lose our love of sin;
  • to lose our disillusionment of making ourselves right with God by our actions;
  • to lose our alibis and excuses for our wrong actions, words and thoughts; and,
  • to lose any fantasy about our mortality.
   "Rub some dirt in it" means that we are honest about who we are before the Lord.  It is a realization that standing with our spiritual resume before the Most High God is a harrowing ordeal.  It is a confession that we have come woefully short of His expectations and demands.  It is a stark reminder that death - both physical and eternal - are what we deserve for how we have misused the life our God has granted us.  It is listening, along with Adam, to the words of the curse: 
"By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you shall return"  Genesis 3:19
   But there is more to the Christian's life than repentance and sorrow - there is HOPE!  We have hope because God sent His Son into this life of dust and dirt and sin in order to rescue us.  We have hope because Jesus lived a perfect life, suffered and died, and then rose from the dead on the third day!  Through faith we hear the curse revised into: Dust you are and to dust you shall return . . . until Jesus returns again and you are called once more out of the dust into eternal life!"  

   Lent is a time to reflect on our mortality and sin, even as we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!  Life got you down? Burdened by sin and sorrow?  Just plain tired of the world's garbage? Rub some dirt in it and rejoice - for Christ has overcome the world!